Jack White: modern guitar legend, sacred gatekeeper of rock and roll, iconoclastic figure who combines old practices with new thought processes. Whether it’s through his legendary work with The White Stripes, his rock-solid releases with The Raconteurs, or the steady stream of crowd-pleasing favourites that colour his solo career, White is a man of unique importance to the current culture of music.
But if you were to ask White, he’d probably tell you that music peaked decades ago. And that’s not just accounting for his legendary fandoms of The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. It goes even further, back to the haunting blues numbers of Robert Johnson and Reverend Gary Davis. But if you’re going to press him into specifics, there’s a solid chance that White will say the entirety of music peaked in 1965, when blues performer Son House released The Legendary Son House: Father of Folk Blues.
House had recorded before, all the way back in 1930 for Paramount Records. A decade later, a number of his songs were recorded for the Library of Congress, preserving his contemporary repertoire before he stopped performing for nearly two decades. When Columbia Records signed him in the mid-1960s during the folk and blues revival of the time, House was over 60 and working at a railway station.
Two songs on The Legendary Son House: Father of the Folk Blues were critical to a young Jack Gillis’ development as a blues aficionado and performer himself. One was ‘Death Letter Blues’, which White would cover during the early days of The White Stripes. The other was an a capella track featuring just House’s voices and some off-time handclaps and foot stomps. That track was entitled ‘Grinnin’ in Your Face’, and it left a permanent impression on White.
“By the time I was eighteen, someone had played me Son House,” White recalls in the documentary It Might Get Loud. “That was it for me. This spoke to me in a thousand different ways. I didn’t know that you could do that: just singing and clapping. And it meant everything: it meant everything about rock and roll, everything about expressions, creativity, and art. One man against the world in one song.”
White ends by saying that ‘Grinnin’ in Your Face’ is his favourite song. He says that it was his favourite song the first time he ever heard it, and it remains his favourite song to this day. Watch White listen and talk about ‘Grinnin’ in Your Face’ down below.